Tenochtitlan (15th century)

Tenochtitlan (15th century)

The magnificent capital of the Aztec Empire astonished even the Spanish Conquistadors.

History

Keywords

Tenochtitlan, Aztec Empire, Lake Texcoco, Mexico, Basin of Mexico, Spanish conquerors, Temple district, necropolis, Moctezuma II, architecture, pyramid, sanctuary, capital city, America, Great Temple, Cortes, indigenous people, culture, New World, Middle Ages, church, history

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Questions

  • How tall was the Great Temple?
  • What was the population of Tenochtitlan in its heyday?
  • Which statement is not true of Tenochtitlan?
  • What was not found in Tenochtitlan?
  • Is it true that the Aztecs bathed often?
  • What did the founders of Tenochtitlan call themselves?
  • Which lake surrounded the centre of the Aztec Empire?
  • Why was Tenochtitlan's location special?
  • How many small states had been conquered by the Aztecs by the 15th-16th centuries?
  • Which group belonged to the 'middle class' of Aztec society?
  • Is it true that Aztecs ate dogs?
  • Which animal did the Aztecs introduce to Europeans?
  • Which plant was unknown to the Aztecs?
  • Is it true that the Aztecs built artificial islands on the lake to increase food production?
  • Aztecs worshipped a number of animals. Which was NOT one of them?
  • What did the Conquistadors owe their military dominance to?
  • Is it true that at one time the Aztec Empire stretched from one ocean to another?
  • Which Conquistador conquered the Aztec Empire?
  • Is it true that human sacrifice had a special role in the Aztec religion?
  • Is it true that the Aztec religion was monotheistic?
  • Is it true that the last Aztec ruler was killed by his own people, as he was considered a traitor?
  • Which city was founded in place of the old Aztec capital?
  • Is it true that the Conquistadors had destroyed the old capital and built a new city on its site?
  • Which factor did not contribute to the success of the Conquistadors?
  • Is it true that even the Aztec ruler thought Cortés was a semi-god?
  • When did the Aztec Empire reach its largest extent?
  • Who was the last significant Aztec ruler?
  • What title did Aztec rulers bear?
  • When was the Aztec Empire conquered by the Europeans?
  • Which country conquered the Aztec Empire?
  • Which city was the capital of the Aztec Empire?
  • On which continent was the Aztec Empire located?
  • On the territory of which present-day country was the Aztec Empire located?
  • What was the name of the central area of the city?
  • What was the name of the ball court where the hip ball was played?
  • How many shrines were on the top of the Great Temple?
  • At which structure were many human skulls found?
  • What is not true of the Aztec Empire?

Scenes

Temple district

  • Temple of the Sun
  • tlachtli - A ball court where ullamaliztli, the Aztec ball game was played.
  • priests' residences
  • Great Temple - A typical Aztec religious building, a stepped pyramid built on a square plan (a teocalli) with shrines at the topmost level.
  • Tezcatlipoca's temple - A central deity in the Aztec religion. In the Aztec mythology, there were 4 aspects of Tezcatlipoca, associated with the four cardinal directions. The Black Tezcatlipoca, the god of war, was associated with the north.
  • Quetzalcoatl's temple - In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl was the patron of priests, learning and knowledge, the creator of Mankind. He was usually depicted as a feathered serpent.
  • Cihuacoatl's temple - Cihuacoatl ('snake woman') is one of the fertility goddesses in Aztec mythology. She is also known as Quilaztli.
  • tzompantli - A rack with stakes, where skulls were kept.
  • Tepantzinco gate - 'Eagle gate', the southern entrance to the Temple district.
  • Acatliacapan gate - The northern entrance to the Temple district.
  • Cuauhquiahuac gate - The eastern entrance to the Temple district.
  • Tezcacoac gate - The western entrance to the Temple district.

Surrounded by stone walls, the Temple district was located in the city centre. Each side of the square-shaped area measured about 300 m. The ceremonial centre had four gates, which were arranged in a way that each faced one of the four cardinal directions. Roads starting from these points divided the city into four zones which were further divided into districts.

The most important religious buildings were situated in the Temple district; the most prominent of these was the Great Temple. There were two shrines at its top, one dedicated to the deity of war and the Sun, Huitzilopochtli, and the other to the god of rain, Tlaloc. Other temples in this district were dedicated to Quetzalcoatl (a feathered serpent god), Tonatiuh (one of the sun gods), Cihuacoatl ('snake woman', one of the fertility goddesses), Xochiquetzal (a goddess of love, beauty and fertility) and Tezcatlipoca (a deity associated with war).

There were other types of buildings in the Temple district too, but these were still closely related to religion. The tlachtli, a ball court for the Aztec ball game, and the tzompantli, a skull rack, were also located here.

Tzompantli

The tzompantli, or skull rack, was present in many Mesoamerican cultures besides the Aztec Empire. The only difference was whether the skulls of prisoners of war and sacrificial victims were placed on vertical or horizontal stakes. The bodies of those sacrificed on the altars at the top of the temple were pushed down the stairs.

The Great Skullrack (Hueyi Tzompantli) of Tenochtitlan was placed on a 60 m long and 30 m wide stone platform that was decorated with bas-reliefs. On the platform there were 60–70 huge stakes and crossbeams that supported them. According to Spanish conquistadors, the rack held as many as 60,000 skulls. There were at least five more tzompantlis in Tenochtitlan, but these were much smaller.

Animation

The city of Tenochtitlan

  • Lake Texcoco - It was a natural lake in the Valley of Mexico. Most of it was drained by the Spanish conquistadors.
  • Temple district - A sacred area within the city centre, surrounded by walls.
  • canal - The city had an extensive canal system, which provided both irrigation and transportation.
  • causeway - The road connecting the city with the coast.
  • dyke - The Aztecs built a system of dykes to separate the salty waters of the lake from the inflowing rainwater.
  • aqueduct of Chapultepec - Drinking water was obtained from the dual aqueduct system located at Chapultepec.
  • chinampas - Artificial islands created for growing crops.
  • Tlatelolco - Originally, it was an independent city-state that was conquered and then united with Tenochtitlan in 1473. It remained an important part of the city thanks to its large marketplace.
  • Atzacoalco - One of four major zones (campan) of the city.
  • Cuepopan - One of four major zones (campan) of the city.
  • Moyotlan - One of four major zones (campan) of the city.
  • Zoquiapan - One of four major zones (campan) of the city.

Tenochtitlan was the capital of the Aztec Empire in Mesoamerica. The city was founded in the first half of the 14th century, on one of the islands of Lake Texcoco, located in the Valley of Mexico.

Tenochtitlan became fully developed as a city by the beginning of the 15th century. Most of the buildings of that era were constructed from stone. As the city was growing, a part of the lake was drained and the original size of the island was increased. Artificial islands made from mud and a canal system lent the Aztec capital a unique appearance.

The city was divided into four major zones, called campan, which were further divided into 5 neighbourhoods each, called calpulli. The area of the city was over 10 km², and its population numbered approximately 200,000. The city was also provided with drinking water and public sanitation.

Eventually, however, even this magnificent city could not avoid its fate. In 1521, Tenochtitlan was conquered by the Spanish, led by the Conquistador Hernán Cortés, who arrived on the territory of present-day Mexico in 1519. The magnificent Aztec buildings were destroyed, and, in the 18th century, the lake was drained and filled.

Today, where Tenochtitlan once stood, we find one of the largest cities in the world, Mexico City.

City centre

  • plaza and market
  • Temple district - A sacred area within the city centre, surrounded by walls.
  • palace of Axayacatl - King Axayacatl ruled Tenochtitlan between 1469 and 1481.
  • palace of Moctezuma II - Moctezuma II reigned between 1502 and 1520. He was the ruler of Tenochtitlan when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived.
  • palace of the cihuacoatl - The cihuacoatl was the highest ranked functionary in Tenochtitlan, second in command to the ruler, responsible for, among others, commanding the army. One of the fertility goddesses in Aztec mythology was also called Cihuacoatl, or 'snake woman' (she was also known as Quilaztli).
  • palace of Ahuizotl - The eighth Aztec ruler, Ahuizotl, was famous for his conquests. The ahuizotl was also the name of a legendary, dog-like creature in Aztec mythology.
  • royal aviary and zoo
  • bridge
  • canal - The city had an extensive canal system, which provided both irrigation and transportation.
  • residential buildings

The religious centre of Tenochtitlan, that is, the Temple district, was located in the middle of the city centre. It was surrounded by palaces built for the rulers. Records show that the palace of Moctezuma II contained a hundred rooms, each having its own bathroom.

Each district of Tenochtitlan had its own marketplace and one of the main marketplaces was located in the city centre. It played a key role in the city’s economy together with the marketplace of Tlateloco. Trade was flourishing in the Aztec capital.

The royal aviary and zoo was one of the most special places of Tenochtitlan. Contemporary sources give a detailed description of the zoo and the animals in it. Many characteristic species native to this geographic region were kept here.

Trained keepers took care of the many species of mammals, reptiles and birds. According to some some sources, humans were also 'on display' here, while other sources reveal that carnivores were fed with the bodies of the victims of human sacrifices. A botanical garden was also created near the palace of Moctezuma II.

Great Temple

  • shrine of Tlaloc - The god of rain, thunder and good harvest in Aztec mythology.
  • shrine of Huitzilopochtli - The god of the Sun and of war in Aztec mythology. He was the chief god and the patron of Tenochtitlan.
  • stairways
  • terrace
  • stone railing
  • brazier holding sacred fire

The Great Temple was one of the most important religious buildings of the Aztec capital. The construction of the original temple began around 1325 and was later rebuilt six times according to the ambitious plans of the rulers.

The Great Temple was a four-level step pyramid (called teocalli). The structure was built on a nearly square-shaped plan with sides measuring 80 and 100 m in length. Two shrines were built at the top, one dedicated to the god of rain, Tlaloc, the other to the deity of war and the Sun, Huitzilopochtli.

Tlaloc was the god of rain, thunder and fertility in the Aztec mythology. He was one of the benevolent gods but he could also cause disasters, such as drought or excessive rainfall. Even though he was described as an anthropomorphic creature, he had owl eyes and jaguar teeth. His name means 'He Who Makes Things Sprout'.

One of the chief deities in Aztec mythology, Huitzilopochtli, was the god of war and the Sun. He was the patron god of Tenochtitlan. His name means 'southern hummingbird'. He was usually depicted as a man.

The topmost platform could be accessed on the monumental staircase, which was used only by the priests and those who were sacrificed. Animals were offered as sacrifice in front of the shrines. Human sacrifices were also common and most of them were offered to Huitzilopochtli. He was entitled to take the victim's blood and heart, which was cut out from the living person by the priest with an obsidian knife.

Aztec ruler

The Aztec Empire started as an alliance between three city-states, but due to constant conquests and territorial expansion, it grew to become an empire. The despotic military confederation was ruled by the Huey Tlatoani, that is, a ruler, or king.

Acamapichtli, the first ruler of Tenochtitlan, ascended to the throne in 1376. The empire reached its greatest extent during the reign of Ahuizotl at the turn of the 16th century. He was succeeded by Moctezuma II and the golden age of the empire continued until the arrival of Hernán Cortés, after which it crumbled. The last Aztec ruler was Cuauhtemoc, the son of Ahuizotl.

Temple of Quetzalcoatl

The god Quetzalcoatl, the patron of priests, learning and knowledge, was probably adopted from Toltec culture. He was also associated with the wind, dawn and the planet Venus. The Aztecs believed that he had created mankind from the bones of previous generations, and he had given them science, ethics, laws and writing. He was also considered the patron of merchants and priests.

Tlachtli

The tlachtli was the venue for the Aztec ball game, ullamaliztli. Surrounded by stone walls on the long sides, the ball court was a flat area with a north-south or east-west orientation, and it was similar to the courts of other Mesoamerican ball games. Ullamaliztli was also a ritual practice.

Ullamaliztli (or hip-ball) was a game in which two teams competed against each other. The game was extremely exhausting and caused many injuries. Originally, the aim of the game was to get the ball past the opponent's 'base line'. The ball (ulli) was made of solid rubber and weighed probably about 4 kg.

Later, one stone ring was placed vertically on each wall of the court, at a height of 5-6 m, and the players had to get the ball through these without using their hands. The walls also functioned as spectator areas. The ball represented the Sun and the rings represented the sunrise or sunset. The players used their knees, hips and head to dribble the ball and wore protective gear to minimise the risk of injuries. Probably there was also a rule according to which the ball was not allowed to touch the ground. The players were so skilled they could keep the ball in the air for more than an hour.

The game ended if the ball went through the ring since it was very difficult to achieve. According to historical sources, the captain of the losing team or even the entire team was sacrificed to the gods. On the other hand, it might have been the winners of the game who were sacrificed, since it was considered a privilege.

Chinampas

Chinampas were rectangular artificial islands that the Aztecs created near their homes. These are sometimes wrongly referred to as 'floating gardens'.

First, they staked out a part of a shallow lake bed, fenced it with wattle, then filled it up with mud, sediment and decayed plants. Trees were often planted on the sides of the artificial islands, to secure them with the roots of the trees.

The Aztecs' livelihood depended on the food grown on the chinampas. These chinampas were 'self-irrigating' and produced a high crop yield since they were independent of the amount of precipitation. The crop was harvested numerous times throughout the year.

Narration

Tenochtitlan was the capital of the Aztec Empire in Mesoamerica. The city was founded in the first half of the 14th century, on one of the islands of Lake Texcoco, in the Valley of Mexico. Tenochtitlan became fully developed as a city by the beginning of the 15th century. Most of the buildings of that era were constructed from stone. As the city was growing, a part of the lake was drained and the original size of the island was increased. Artificial islands made from mud and a canal system lent the Aztec capital a unique appearance.

The area of the city was over 10 km², and its population numbered approximately 200,000. The temple district, with the most important buildings in the city, was located in the centre of Tenochtitlan, surrounded by a stone wall.

The most outstanding of the buildings was the Great Temple, which was 30 m in height. There were two shrines at the top. The altars in front of these were used for ritual sacrifices (usually human sacrifices), which were offered to the god of the Sun on one and to the god of rain on the other.

Located on the other side of the central district was the tlachtli, the court for the Aztec ball game called Ullamaliztli, or hip-ball. The game often contained ritual elements and often featured human sacrifice. Next to this field was another morbid structure.

The Tzompantli, or skull rack, was a rack with stakes, where the skulls of those defeated and sacrificed were kept.

The city was also supplied with drinking water and public sanitation. Eventually, however, even this magnificent city could not avoid its fate. In 1521, Tenochtitlan was conquered by the Spanish, led by the Conquistador Hernán Cortés, who arrived on the Yucatan Peninsula in 1519.

The magnificent Aztec buildings were destroyed, and, in the 18th century, the lake was completely drained or filled. Today, where Tenochtitlan once stood, we find one of the largest cities in the world, Mexico City.

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